Socialist Worker

Hillsborough police chief said fans ‘forced’ a gate, court hears

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2641

Remembering the victims of the Hillsborough disaster

Remembering the victims of the Hillsborough disaster (Pic: Bryan Ledgard/Flickr)


Police match commander David Duckenfield said fans had forced a gate and caused casualties during the 1989 Hillsborough football disaster, a court has heard.

Some 96 Liverpool fans died after a crush developed in pens 3 and 4 at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough’s stadium.

Glen Kirton was head of external affairs for the Football Association (FA) at the time. He went with FA boss Graham Kelly to the police control box after the match had been stopped.

Kirton said, “Mr Duckenfield said to Mr Kelly that a gate had been forced. He said there had been an in-rush of supporters.” A statement given by Kirton in 1989 said Duckenfield had said this related to Liverpool fans.

Asked about what Duckenfield said about the “inrush” of fans, Kirton said, “He said that it had caused casualties.”

Duckenfield faces 95 charges of manslaughter by gross negligence. He cannot be charged over the death of the 96th victim, Tony Bland, as Bland died four years after the disaster.

Graham Mackrell, then Sheffield Wednesday club safety officer, faces two charges relating to safety breaches. Both deny the charges.

Kirton said it was “clear” from the police control box that “there were a lot of people injured and people in need of treatment”.

Asked whether there seemed to be any co-ordinated assistance he said, “No. The people who were injured and possibly had died were receiving attention from some police officers but mainly, it seemed, from the supporters.”

The court heard that Kirton was tournament director when England hosted the 1996 European Championships. He chose Mackrell as one of four venue directors.

Kirton said it is fair to regard this as a “marker” of how well regarded Mackrell was in the 1980s and 1990s.

Ordered

Howard Swift was a South Yorkshire Police sergeant in 1989 and on duty at Hillsborough. He told the court that he was ordered onto the pitch at the Leppings Lane end and arrived there at around 2.58pm.

He tried to listen for orders on the radio but struggled to make out the transmissions. He could see that fans needed to be moved out of pen 4.

“The control box was immediately opposite me,” he told the court. “I was trying to wave to get some recognition of what I intended to do. The intention was to open the gate so I could corral people and get them into the pen further down the terrace.”

He received no order to open the gate but did so anyway. He said the crowd was so dense that people couldn’t leave through the gate naturally but had to be pulled through.

Swift agreed that helping people from pen 4 would have been easier if the exit gate had been wider. He agreed police efforts to help people were not helped by the pitch perimeter fence.

Earlier in the week chartered structural engineer John Cutlack told the court that the safe capacity of pens in the West Terraces had been overestimated.

He agreed that this overestimate, by Eastwood and Partners in 1979, was the most “relevant, significant event” relating to the tragedy so far as his evidence was concerned.

Cutlack believed that the 7,200 capacity for the West Terrace – pens 1-7 – was around 30 percent too high. He told the court that he thought some of the “seeds of the disaster” were sown ten years before 1989 because of the overestimates.

Cutlack also agreed that the council had “significant responsibility” in ensuring that the ground’s safety certificate was complied with, and that it complied with legislation.

The trial resumes at Preston Crown Court on Friday.


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